U of M School of Nursing embarking on research to mitigate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fang Yu, Ph.D., R.N., G.N.P., associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, will lead a $3.04 million study investigating the effects of a six-month aerobic exercise program on memory and brain function in participants with Alzheimer’s disease. Yu, who teaches geriatric nursing and conducts research on interventions for improving memory and function in older adults, was awarded funding for the five-year study by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging this fall.  

To complete the study, Yu and her research colleagues will engage 90 participants aged 66 and older who have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease in the research program over five years. Each participant will be evaluated for memory, brain function and physical ability over the course of a year and a brain scan will be conducted at various intervals using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).   

“We are pleased and eager to get this work underway, building on three previous pilot studies,” said Yu, who is the principal investigator of the randomized control study. “With more than five million people living with Alzheimer’s today in just the United States alone, the anguish and financial costs of this particular condition are immense and solutions for mitigating symptoms are urgent.”

The study is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind to date. The MRI aspect of the study will measure the brain’s hippocampus at three points in time. This small, distinct section of the brain is essential for memory function and is thought to be a part of the brain system responsible for spatial memory, direction and navigation. In Alzheimer's disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer measurable damage. 

“For older adults with Alzheimer’s disease, exercise is often the first activity they drop, for a whole range of reasons,” said Yu. “What if this lack of activity is compounding the symptoms and accelerating the progression of the disease? We don’t know the answer, but need to find out.”

Study participants will be supported with transportation, health and fitness monitoring and exercise supervision to ensure study integrity and participant safety. The project team is measuring both immediate and long-term impact.

“This innovative, community based intervention holds promise for demonstrating the immediate and long-term impact of aerobic cycling on memory and brain function on older adults with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease,” said Ann Garwick, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., associate dean for research at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.